Tairāwhiti iwi housing initiative offers solutions for homelessness and ownership

By Te Kuru o te Marama Dewes

Homelessness and housing affordability issues are widespread in Aotearoa, worsened by skyrocketing housing prices since the outbreak of Covid-19. But a Tairāwhiti iwi collective is taking matters into its own hands, to help get whānau Māori into and owning their own homes.

“There are a number of people who are in one home. That's not good for the pathway to knowledge and education," says Anette Wehi who is a mediator with the housing initiative. "Most of them are sick, they have lung disease, diabetes, inflammation, some suffering from cancer but they're all living in the same house."

Where whānau have land available, the initiative sees iwi pays for infrastructure, and iwi members rent to own. But it doesn't come without challenges.

“These families all have land but they're in discussions between generations. It's difficult to talk about the occupational order, the licence to occupy. The council costs are high for this work because they survey the land to see what will happen in the event of an earthquake.

"Here in Te Tairāwhiti there aren't many builders, so some of the supplies come from Tāmaki Makaurau. It's challenging but in the end the benefits are numerous and great," she says. 

Comfortable homes

In the three months to December 2020, the government spent $82.5m on motel emergency housing. The East Coast was also one of most affected by house price inflation in 2020.

“In the past few years the average prices here in Te Tairāwhiti have risen, last year to $450,000. This year it has gone up by $100,000. Some can buy homes but can't get the loan from the bank. Our first focus is those who are homeless, those who are staying in motels, who are living in poverty here in Te Tairāwhiti.”

A unique iwi collaboration by Toitū Tairāwhiti, which includes Ngāi Tāmanuhiri, Rongowhakaata, Te Aitanga ā Māhaki and Ngāti Porou, brings with it a new sense of hope for the people.

“Most of the time people sit at home and complain without any or solutions, but through the work championed by Willie Te Aho, the spirits are raised in Te Tairāwhiti. He's an industrious worker, and the tribe believes that we can climb to a higher plateau in this housing initiative.”

“The dream is for children, and grandchildren, to live in comfortable homes, in homes where the water isn't dirty, where each child has their own room, that's the ultimate dream.”

Next week one of the new builds will arrive at Waihīrere.